On Monday, November 14th, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) met in Baltimore to begin day 1 of its national meeting in the wake of increasing tensions between the USCCB and the White House over a range of issues. Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press provides a good overview of the sentiment at the annual meeting:
The mood among many U.S. Roman Catholic bishops was captured in a recent speech by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. His talk, called “Catholics in the Next America,” painted a bleak picture of a nation increasingly intolerant of Christianity. “The America emerging in the next several decades is likely to be much less friendly to Christian faith than anything in our country’s past,” Chaput told students last week at Assumption College, an Augustinian school in Worcester, Mass. “It’s not a question of when or if it might happen. It’s happening today.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meets Monday in Baltimore for its national meeting feeling under siege: from a broader culture moving toward accepting gay marriage; a White House they often condemn as hostile to Catholic teaching; and state legislatures that church leaders say are chipping away at religious liberty.
These concerns—including the Department of Health and Human Services’ decision to end funding to the USCCB to help victims of human trafficking and the Supreme Court’s looming Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC decision—culminated in a face-to-face meeting between President Barack Obama and New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan. The USCCB’s confrontational stance, described by Scott Appleby in the AP report as “a more pugnacious style, much more of a kind of culture-wars attitude,” has drawn critics among Catholics. John Gehring of Faith in Public Life, a Catholic advocacy network, notes:
[I]n a pluralistic democracy it’s inevitable that there will be times when the particular moral beliefs of a religious organization clash with a government agency tasked with providing public funding drawn from taxpayers who don’t share those views. The effort to navigate that complex legal and ethical maze is difficult and not always done well. But it’s a real disservice to the essential task of both church and state when we reduce those clashes to shouting matches and ugly charges of bigotry.
More conservative Catholics have also called out the USCCB for its agenda; Francis X. Doyle, a former associate general secretary to the USCCB, criticizes the conference for ignoring the pressing economic woes of the country even after the release of a Vatican document that urges stronger regulation of the financial sector and a more just distribution of wealth:
At a time of staggering poverty, rampant unemployment and growing income inequality, Catholic bishops will gather for a national meeting in Baltimore today and remain largely silent about these profound moral issues. A recent Catholic News Service headline about the meeting — “Bishops’ agenda more devoted to internal matters than societal ills” — is a disappointing snapshot for a church that has long been a powerful voice for economic justice.
For more on the USCCB’s general assembly, including agendas, live streaming, and past videos, please visit their site.